Sunday, April 30, 2006

More good news from Iraq

Today we have reports that 7 Iraqi insurgent groups are close to reaching a deal with the Iraqi government and the Multinational Forces to lay down their arms and participate in the political process. I have also noted that the daily rate of violence in Iraq is much reduced over the past week relative to the preceding three weeks of the month. It seems Iraq's "slide to civil war" as the press likes to call it has not only managed to stop but reverse itself in only a couple of weeks.

I watched with almost a chuckle as the major media trotted out one person after another who offered the "civil war" scenario. Nevermind that April's casualty rate, though high, was still below that of the last two weeks of March. It was as if the media so dearly wanted there to be civil war that they had to find as many sources as possible to try to validate and reinforce that conclusion. If anyone who is anyone wanted to get some print space in the papers in April, all they had to do was discuss "civil war" in Iraq. Suddenly that talk is nowhere to be seen. As if it never happened.

There was an article published today on Strategy Page that while true, seems to miss a more general point. Each of the items presented in the essay by Harold C. Hutchison are true but there are some overall sweeping issues that I think are more important. In order to understand them, you have to understand a little background first.

Al Qaida wants to radicalize Muslims to bring about the supremacy of a Salafist form of Islam and create a Caliphate. The idea is to provide resources to bring about the overthrow of existing governments and have those nations join a pan-Islamic Caliphate ruled by someone they (al Qaida) approve of. The way they have managed to try this is to inject themselves into countries that are already in a struggle and have a weak central government. Somalia was a good example of this. In Somalia, al Qaida aligned forces eventually resulted in a UN retreat but they have not been victorious in winning the government of that country. The struggle continues there today with the sharia based forces fighting traditional warlords for control of the country. In fact al Qaida has not managed a single victory anywhere on the planet. They have won some battles, but they have not won a single one of the wars they have chosen to fight.

After Somalia came Afghanistan. Afghan forces had succeeded in pushing out the Russians but now there was significant infighting between various warlords and strongmen for control. The central government was weak and Afghanistan was practically in a state of perpetual civil war. Enter al Qaida and the Taliban. The country had all of al Qaida's criteria ... it was a Muslim country, it had a weak central government, it was in chaos. al Qaida had an ally in the religiously extreme "Taliban" who had considerable experience fighting the Russians. It was gambled that the people would be sufficiently tired of the constant fighting that they would accept a religious based government as a compromise. Who could argue with Islam? It wasn't a political philosophy and it promised to restore order and give them some peace from the fighting. The Taliban began to push the other warlords out and made considerable progress. Note that this process was still not complete when 9/11 came around. There were still considerable parts of Afghanistan that were not under Taliban control. Osama made a huge mistake in the timing of 9/11 by not waiting for complete Taliban control of Afghanistan, the consolidation of that control, and the implementation of a Caliphate. Had those steps been completed, al Qaida would have had a success under their belts and an operating Caliphate for groups in other countries to strive to join. Instead, Allied forces working with those fighting the Taliban smashed the regime in a few short weeks. Al Qaida has nothing but a second defeat (after the failure to win Somalia) to toss on it's growing heap of defeats.

Now the US moves on Iraq. After smashing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the country falls into the pattern perfect for al Qaida meddling. There is a weak central government, the country is fractured, the infrastructure is crippled and the place is lousy with infidels. al Qaida just couldn't help but stick its nose into the fight and they did. Again with only grand promises to offer and not a single success to hold up as a model, they begin a brutal campaign of intimidation of the local population under the guise of fighting foreign invaders. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq had not suffered years of civil war and strife between factions. They had a national history and a national identity that was stronger than the more tribal identities in Afghanistan. Iraq has its divisions, to be sure, but there is a stronger Iraqi identity than there was any national identity in Afghanistan. In order to foster the chaos required to gain acceptance as a provider of peace and control, al Qaida in Iraq set out on a cultural arson campaign designed to inflame public opinions of various sectarian groups. Al Qaida would attack Shiites to inflame them against the Sunnis and they would attack Sunnis who didn't agree with al Qaida's vision. Al Qaida seemed to be fighting to the last Saudi college student in its suicide bombing campaign. But there was a major problem. The Iraqis themselves weren't buying into it.

As al Zarqawi killed more and more Iraqis, the people began to pull away from him. Resentment grew of his thugs intimidating the townspeople in villages they controlled. Then there was the military problem. Al Qaida in Iraq was unable to field any kind of effective force against the Allied forces in Iraq. Their window of opportunity began to close as the new Iraqi army, it it's second incarnation began to gain control. Now, increasingly, al Qaida found itself in battles against Iraqis. Again, it seems that al Qaida in Iraq is killing more Iraqis than foreigners. Then comes Fallujah. Zarqawi suffers a crushing defeat and runs away. Not long after that come operations in western Iraq. Again, a string of defeat after defeat. All the while they are unable to disrupt the timetable of Iraq's march to a permanent government. When a united Iraqi population marched to the polls in the last election, the signal was clear that al Qaida had been defeated. The rest was just a matter of time. Defeat number three.

Where to now? Palestine. The financial troubles of Hamas appears to be placing the Palestinian territories in the state that al Qaida needs to begin to meddle. There is a weak central government and factions within the governed area in a struggle for control. The conditions are being set for another al Qaida interference operation in the Palestinian authority. Al Qaida now simply needs to spark civil war so it can come "riding to the rescue" in its mind ... but in reality "riding to defeat" if the past is any indication of the future.

Al Qaida does not have a single overall success to point to. They can point to a large tally of dead, but that is about it. Osama's biggest blunder was in pulling the trigger on 9/11 at least a year too soon. Had he allowed the Taliban to gain total control, had he established his Caliphate, had he allowed his fighters to rest, re-train, be re-equipped, he might have stood a chance in Somalia. Having a real entity to fight and die for is motivating. People tire of fighting for empty promises. Without a 9/11 operation there would have probably been no Iraq operation or at least less urgency about it. Al Qaida would have had time to consolidate both physically and ideologically. The error was in failing to anticipate that the US would intervene in Afghanistan so quickly after 9/11 and eliminate the Taliban while creating a government in Afghanistan that is surprisingly united.

Not only has the US won, but al Qaida is in tatters. It's promises broken, its dreams unrealized. They have failed utterly and completely. And THAT is the message our media should be spreading.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Iran's judgment Day plan

I happened to notice a thread on Little Green Footballs on the subject of an Iranian plan they call judgment Day in case of attack by the US. The article quoted by LGF is from Asharq Alawsat's website. Let's take this apart a little, shall we?

First of all there is something at the end that bears talking about.

According to the source, in case the US military attacks continue, more
than 50 Shehab-3 missiles will be targeted against Israel and the al Quads
Brigades will give the go-ahead for more than 50 terrorists cells in Canada, the
US and Europe to attack civil and industrial targets in these countries.

What about the last stage in the plan?

Here, the Iranian source hesitated before saying with worry; this
stage might represent the beginning of a world war, given that extremists will
seek to maximize civilian casualties by exploding germ and chemical bombs as
well as dirty nuclear bombs across western and Arab cities.

These last two paragraphs should give pause to countries in Europe and across the Arab region. If this is Iran's true plan, they have just threatened Europe and the Arabs with the use of chemical and biological weapons. If anything, this comment has probably given cause for Europe and other Arab countries to support us in efforts to assist Iranians in changing their government. These statements haven't won Iran any friends in the global arena. This admission, if this information is really coming from someone who knows what they are talking about, admits to possession of chemical and biological weapons and a willingness to use them on their neighbors.

But I have reasons to doubt that this source really has access to any strategic Iranian plans. The items mentioned as a response do not appear to be part of an overall strategic plan. They appear to be an assemblage of tactics that are based on situations and capabilities that are disjointed in their usefulness. While some of these tactics could be undertaken now, some will need to wait until a point in the future. And when those other future capabilities are ready, the window of opportunity on some earlier ones will have closed so these "responses" can't be read as a timeline of events in how Iran would respond.

Lets start at the top:

1- A missile strike directly targeting the US bases in the Persian Gulf and
Iraq , as soon as nuclear installations are hit.

So here we are talking about attacks on Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Iraq. While there are currently a large number of personnel in Iraq, the numbers will begin dropping soon. An attack by Iran, depending on when it occurs, could be seen as more of an attack on Iraq than on the US. The other countries I mention would probably take any such attack by Iran as an attack on their own country and respond accordingly. These countries have some significant capabilities, particularly in their air forces. Iran would be subject to counter-attack from the air forces of a half-dozen different countries.

2- Suicide operations in a number of Arab and Muslim countries against US
embassies and missions and US military bases and economic and oil installations
related to US and British companies. The campaign might also target the economic
and military installations of countries allied with the United States .

Again Iran is threatening their Arab neighbors with attacks on their soil. Has Iran consulted with those neighbors? Somehow I don't think so. Jordan would probably not be pleased, neither would Saudi Arabia be interested in seeing Iran (again) undertake terrorist attacks on US targets on Saudi soil. If this is truly the strategic plan of Iran, then their Arab neighbors have just been placed on notice to watch any activity by Iranians and Iranian allied groups all the more closely.

3- Launch attacks by the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards and Iraqi
fighters loyal to Iran against US and British forces in Iraq , from border
regions in central and southern Iraq .

This item is fleeting. It supposes that there will be a large number of US and British forces in Iraq when this scenario plays out. This would mean Iran expects this scenario to come about in the next 2 years or less. Also, this will be seen by Iraq as a direct attack on them from Iran.

4- Hezbollah to launch hundreds of rockets against military and economic targets
in Israel .

This statement, if true, should provide additional incentive for the government of Lebanon to begin disarming Hezbollah. I do not believe Lebanon wants to get involved in any scenario where Iran fights to the last Lebanese. In other words, all number 4 accomplishes is getting a lot of Lebanese killed and probably gets their country invaded by Israel. This is Iran saying that Lebanon is simply a pawn on their chess board. While that might be true to some extent, I don't believe that situation is likely to continue much longer as Lebanon has already made noises that they intend to throw off the outside influences as much and as quickly as possible. They have already begin to intercept weapons shipments to Hezbollah and there are calls for the disarming of Hezbollah that are increasing in both frequency and volume.

According to the source, in case the US military attacks continue, more
than 50 Shehab-3 missiles will be targeted against Israel and the al Quads
Brigades will give the go-ahead for more than 50 terrorists cells in Canada, the
US and Europe to attack civil and industrial targets in these countries.

This part seals it for me that the person that is the source of this article is not a general officer nor does this person have any military training. The source is political. Notice how the "more than 50" number appears twice. For some reason it rings of a "rectal extraction" and not a real number. I also don't have any reason to believe Iran has 50 Shehab-3 missiles deployed in fireable condition. The Shehab-3 is a modified Scud. It's performance and accuracy is suspect. It is liquid fueled. This launch threat depends on the rocket fuel still exsiting after initial attacks and follow-on attacks from not only US forces but practically every air force in Europe and much of the Arab world if Iran has made good on the earlier threats and launched attacks there. Also, this item carries an admission of "more than 50 terrorist cells". Thank you very much, we shall now go about discovering and neutralizing them. And even if some still exist when such a scenario plays out, giving a cell the "green light" is one thing. Its ability to then acquire its weapons and coordinate an attack is something else. If they already have their weapons secreted away, they are subject to discovery ... starting right about now (again, thanks for tipping us off) if they don't have them already, they are going to need to get them somehow. A Iranian going around looking for a load of ammonium nitrate in the middle of a war with Iran is likely to be noticed.

Overall, I think the article is horsecrap. I believe it is bluster from some middle-level diplomatic or government source. If this really is the strategic plan of Iran, it has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese and relies on a lot of wishful thinking.

The larger question is "why is Iran talking like this?". I have my suspicions. First of all, someone would be quite stupid to lay out their actual plans. I believe the reason for Iran's bluster recently is that they want to keep a large US presence in the Persian Gulf region for political purposes. They want to rattle the saber enough to keep US troops from leaving Iraq figuring that every additional month that US troops are in Iraq in large numbers weakens the US politically and economically. The US leaving Iraq would telegraph a significant victory and Iran would rather not see that come to pass. I believe that is also the reason behind this statement:

The source also said that the military training camps of the Guards were
opened for the fighters of the Mehdi army in Iran to receive the necessary
training. Iran had also increased its financial assistance to Moqtada al Sadr to
more than 20 million dollars.

I believe the real reason for all this talk is to cause the strategic planners in the US from withdrawing from Iraq and pin down a large number of troops there that can not rest, be re-equipped, and re-trained for an attack on Iran. It is in Iran's interest to keep as many US forces as possible pinned down in Iraq for as long as possible and at the same time cause friction between us and those countries providing us with bases in the region. In other words, this "leak" is propaganda. It has a purpose and that purpose is to sow the seeds of uncertainty in the minds of our planners and our allies in the region. I believe it has backfired. If anything it will cause other countries in the region to see Iran as the threat and cause them to work more closely with us in getting a change in government in Iran.

The source was probably right about one thing. When Iran deploys the final piece to it's "response" there probably would be a "world war" but it would most likely be the world against Iran.

Friday, April 28, 2006

We almost got Zarqawi, again.

9 days before Zarqawi released his first videotape in months, the US Special Operations unit TF-145 nearly nabbed him. This article at the Armed Forces Journal is a must read. You learn that we have been close to capturing him several times. Once, thanks to intelligence provided by an Arab American member of the task force, we nearly got him in an ambush. He was only saved by being a few minutes late to the kill zone and again by a hardware glitch on a UAV.

What I find most heartening is this information:

But a key difference between this campaign and previous ones has been that Delta, which runs TF 145, has the authority to launch missions immediately based on raw intelligence. In the past, he said, Delta had never been able to do that; instead, it would have had to bring intelligence material back to the rear and have it analyzed before striking again.
Now, the source said, "People have bought off on Delta's methodology". TF 145 describes this fusion of operations and intelligence as "the unblinking eye,"said a Special Forces lieutenant colonel.
TF 145's success has been Zarqawi's loss, a special ops source said. His senior lieutenants used to be foreigners, but not anymore; TF 145 and its predecessors killed or captured them alldoesn'tHe doesn't have a foreigner working for him anymore " most of them are Iraqis. We've either captured or killed all of his foreign influence."
The foreign terrorists still coming into Iraq from Syria, he said, "are suicide bombers only, "Muslims on Spring Break." They come in through Syria, get a week of training, "Here, this is an RPG, come down and strap a bomb on them."

So we are now able to go after a target and if anything develops during the course of that operation pointing to a follow-on target, we can move immediately. That must be causing some serious heartburn for Zarqawi and his band of merry men.

But the article also points out some problems. We know about al Qaeda people in other countries that we can not reach for political reasons. We can not operate in Pakistan for political reasons. Since we can not run operations directly against Osama, we run them against the people we can reach and right now, that is Zarqawi. I wish the members of TF-145 godspeed and good hunting.

Oil prices, again

It is very important that people understand that oil companies do not set oil prices. Imagine you have an oil well. Let's say it costs you $10 to get a barrel of oil to market. You take that oil to market and people bid on it. If the highest bidder is $20, you make $10 on each barrel. If a new buyer (say, China) comes into the market and starts buying a lot of oil, that barrel might now bring $50. You now make $40 on that same barrel. Your profits increase because the cost to bring that oil to market is about the same. It is the same hole in the ground being pumped by the same pump with the oil going over the same pipeline. Costs didn't increase but the value of the product did.

What does all that mean? It simply means that this is a great time to be in the oil production business. Increased oil prices mean that you can now afford to pump oil that costs $30 to bring to market. Higher prices result in a greater supply. Oil companies are currently drilling in the Gulf of Mexico at a furious rate. This huge profit from increased oil prices mean that companies can sink more wells.

People who blame oil companies for the price of oil don't understand how markets work. A farmer does not set the price of wheat but when the price of wheat goes up, he makes more money. This allows him to plant more wheat, which increases the supply. If the price of wheat were to triple, farmers would do very well and the price of bread would go up. Should we then go after farmers and accuse them of fixing the price of bread or "price gouging"? The farmer doesn't set the price. The price is what he gets at the market. The same goes for oil. It is traded on commodity exchanges. Whatever price oil brings is what the company gets. It is like a big eBay auction. If everyone wanted Cabbage Patch dolls and people on eBay bid up the prices so that Cabbage Patch dolls brought $200 each, would it be fair to pass an extra tax on sellers of the dolls just because people are willing to pay more for them? Is it the seller's fault that the buyers will pay more?

Whenever government gets involved in markets, it ends badly. They end up creating artificial conditions that do not reflect supply or demand and cause problems for either the producer or the buyer. Introducing market inefficiency hurts the end user in the long run. If you tax the oil producer, you extract funds that could go to exploration or increased production and do nothing to reduce prices. If you cap prices, you force people to sell the oil in a different uncapped market. The major oil companies are HUGE. For Exxon, US consumption represents about 10 percent of their global business. Fuel prices are hitting highs globally, not just in the US. Capping prices here simply means that people wont sell their products here resulting in shortages. Again, it causes a market inefficiency.

The best thing we can do is let the market decide. As prices rise, car makers will make more efficient vehicles and people will buy them causing a change in the amount of oil demanded. Makers might also start making alternative fuel vehicles if oil prices rise enough to make those alternatives competitive. Making alternative fuel vehicles will cause a change in the nature of demand. Both of these things will cause the demand/supply ratio to change and act to moderate oil prices. On the supply side, higher prices means more exploration, more drilling, more oil brought to market and again, these things will act to moderate prices.

Nobody likes to pay more at the pump. But please, lets not act on our emotions. Lets think and use our brains and reason our way through this.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Iraq, the war is over.

The war in Iraq is for all practical purposes overwith and it is time people realized this fact. While I do understand there are still service members fighting and dying, from a strategic standpoint the war is over and we won. There is no longer any single dominant entity engaged in any large scale fighting. What we see these days are smaller actions by a number of individual political factions. Mostly these factions are fighting among themselves or trying to make political points with the population.

Today was a very important day. The prime minister under the previous Iraqi government, Mr. al-Jaafari, has decided to place his nomination for the position in the new government back into the hands of the alliance of parties that initially nominated him. It was a thin nomination at the time, too. al-Jaafari won by only a single vote. Since that time both the Sunnis and the Kurds have refused to vote for his confirmation while al-Jaafari has stubbornly refused to back down from the nomination resulting in deadlock. Today we finally have a glimmer of hope that this deadlock will be broken. The parliament will meet again on Saturday. It is my belief that we are seeing the beginning of peace in Iraq.

I was very dismayed today by the results of some polls. The results show the degree to which the people of this country are misinformed. It is understandable as our news media has failed our nation but increasingly so are the bloggers. Firstly there is this preoccupation with Bush's approval numbers. Odd because Bush isn't running for office. His numbers really don't mean anything. Even more amazing is the reason. People claim it is because of Rumsfeld. If Rumsfeld were replaced right this instant, it wouldn't make even a tiny bit of difference in how quickly the political process in Iraq moves forward. Well, it might, but that would be a bad thing if it did. Rumsfeld is allowing Iraq to come to it's own solution. We absolutely HAVE to do it that way. If we impose a solution upon them it will fall apart the moment we leave. If we are to expect a lasting government in Iraq, it has to be formed their own way through their own decisions and their own actions. Replacing Rumsfeld might have made a difference two or three years ago but we are practically finished with the job at this point. We are simply maintaining security while the Iraqis form their government. Their army is taking over more of the responsibility each week that passes. The time is long past for making any changes in the military strategy in Iraq. It won't make any difference. We have already won the military battle. The current battle is political.

Here is what I expect to play out over the next few months:

al-Jaafari will be replaced as nominee for PM. A new nominee might or might not have the support of al-Sadr with his Mahdi Army. If it doesn't have al-Sadr's support but does gain enough support for confirmation, there will be a bit more fighting as al-Sadr gets his revenge for loss of status in the alliance. The best of all worlds is a candidate that has the support of all factions of the Shiite alliance and the Sunnis and Kurds can support. My take is that this is a 40% chance of happening. I would give a 60% chance of al-Sadr being shoved out of the alliance and some additional infighting until he accepts his new position in the Shiite pecking order. He has been seen as a troublemaker by many other Shiites for quite some time and is also seen by many as an Iranian proxy.

Once a government is installed there will likely be one final security push to disarm militias and then our troops will start coming home in large numbers. The mix of troops will change from mainly combat troops to mainly logistics and training forces. Eventually these will be drawn down too, but that will take a year or so as the Iraqi infrastructure is rebuilt.

My guess is that by the time the mid-term elections come around this fall, our troops will be much lower in strength than they are now. The only thing delaying this has been the deadlock surrounding al-Jaafari. This situation went much longer than it should have. I think they are going to get it sorted out over the next week or two.

We have won, it is now up to the Iraqis themselves. It took us years to do in our own country what it is taking only months to do in Iraq. Let's not push them too quickly. We can't if their government is going to last. We even had our own insurgents when we were trying to get settled on our Constitution. Look up Shay's Rebellion. Some of the original 13 states didn't like the Constitution either. Rhode Island didn't ratify the Constitution until Washington had already been president for a year!

Anyway, it's just a shame how opinion in this country is based on such a lack of understanding of the situation in Iraq. We should be feeling GOOD, it's almost over!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Blogosphere

I am growing somewhat disenchanted with many of the blogs I read this days. I can't read the ones on the left because the mindless drivel and lockstep chants of the most moronic mantras are a useless waste of bandwidth. I am also starting to have more problems with the narrow minded islamophobic bigotry of many of the blogs on the right. Some are simply reduced to posting any negative story they can find about Muslims. Here and there I find what I consider to be good blogs with thoughtful discussion and analysis. Too much of what I am finding is just pollution. I guess it was bound to happen once something becomes popular. Same thing seems to have happened to the internet in general.

Lots of weeds out there these days.

One of the problems this causes is that people don't think. Instead they react. Many of the sites and the articles on them seem to be more of an emotional response rather than thought out. I don't need to name any names as these blogs are very common on both left and right. Logic be damned, we have our agenda to promote! We will create a reality that fits our agenda and anyone that doesn't see it must be wrong. You may disagree, just don't tell us so or we will feel obligated to attack you for daring to imply that we aren't correct!